Archive for the ‘Space News’ Category

Credit: NASA

A NASA-funded study makes the case for making it simpler to send spacecraft to some areas of Mars while still protecting the planet from Earth-based contamination.

The just-issued study could allow robotic missions to certain locations on Mars to be carried out with less restrictive “bioburden” requirements designed to prevent harmful contamination by Earth-based microbes at Mars.

The Committee on Planetary Protection, a standing committee of the National Academies Space Studies Board, was tasked by NASA to write the report discussing criteria that could be used to designate regions on Mars where missions can land with less stringent bioburden requirements than currently in place.

This map of Mars shows locations where ice is potentially located within 1 meter of the surface, based on neutron spectroscopy data (Mars Odyssey) or thermal infrared (IR) spectra (Mars Climate Sounder), and includes known subsurface access points from the Mars Candidate Cave Catalog. The gray regions are those lacking IR data and yielding water equivalent hydrogen (WEH) contents less than 10% from neutron spectroscopy. In the gray areas, closed-system ice or brine could potentially be present in the top 1 meter, but it is likely to be low in abundance and patchy in distribution. Gray regions may be appropriate for missions planning subsurface activities (as deep as 1 meter) with reduced bioburden requirements, if landing sites are a conservative buffer distance from subsurface access points.
Credit: A. Deanne Rogers, Stony Brook University, The State University of New York.

Imposing, costly, complex

Amanda Hendrix, a Planetary Science Institute senior scientist and co-chair of the committee said: “Currently, meeting planetary protection requirements – for instance, using rigorous sterilization techniques – can be seen as imposing, costly and complex, and it could be that these restrictions can be simplified and modernized, in some cases, which can help make some areas of Mars more accessible.”

The Committee’s findings,” Hendrix said, “can lead to making portions of Mars more accessible to both commercial and government endeavors by relaxing planetary protection requirements while remaining careful about access to potential habitable zones.”

“Biocidal” UV environment

The newly-issued report, for example, notes that for missions that do not access the subsurface, such regions could include a significant portion of the surface of Mars, because the UV environment is so biocidal that terrestrial organisms are, in most cases, not likely to survive more than one to two sols, or Martian days.

Location of candidate caves in the Tharsis region on Mars.
Credit: USGS

Furthermore, for missions that access the subsurface (down to 1 meter), regions on Mars expected to have patchy or no water ice below the surface might also be visited by spacecraft with more relaxed bioburden requirements, because such patchy ice is likely not conducive to the proliferation of terrestrial microorganisms.

Cave openings: keep your distance

The report also found that it is imperative that any mission sent to Mars with reduced bioburden requirements remain some conservative distance from any subsurface access points, such as cave openings.

Though less stringent than current requirements, these missions with relaxed bioburden requirements would still need some level of cleanliness, which could be achieved for instance using standard aerospace cleanliness practices.

The committee’s findings apply specifically to missions for which NASA has responsibility for planetary protection. For commercial missions in which NASA has no role or connection, the U.S. government still needs to designate a regulatory agency to authorize and continually supervise space activities in accordance with the Outer Space Treaty, the report explains.

To access the full report — Evaluation of Bioburden Requirements for Mars Missions – go to:

Credit: CCTV/Inside Outer Space screengrab

China’s next step in the country’s space station assembly program has taken place.

The Shenzhou-13 crewed spaceship atop a Long March-2F carrier rocket has been rolled out to the launching area of Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in northwest China on October 7th.

Shenzhou-13 and its 3-person crew will be launched in the near future at an appropriate time, the China Manned Space Agency (CMSA) stated.

The facilities and equipment at the launch site are in good condition, and various pre-launch function checks and joint tests will be carried out as planned, said the CMSA.

Half-a-year mission

Once lofted, the trio of Chinese taikonauts will live and work on the space station core segment, residing there for half-a-year before returning to Earth.

Credit: CCTV/Inside Outer Space screengrab

The upcoming flight is one more of a series of launches to complete the building of the new station by late 2022.

Previously, China launched the Tianhe core module, two Tianzhou cargo ships and the piloted, Shenzhou-12 spacecraft to construct the space station.

Launch drill

Prior to the transfer of the Shenzhouo-13/Long March-2F, “we have completed the main work in the technical area, such as the function check of the rocket subsystem, the general check and test of matching, the comprehensive electrical test of the spacecraft, fueling and installing payload fairing to the rocket,” Wu Hua, “00” commander of the Shenzhou-13 manned mission told China Central Television (CCTV).

Credit: CCTV/Inside Outer Space screengrab

“After the rocket-spaceship combo is transferred to the launching area, a series of work will be completed, such as the functional test of the spaceship and rocket, the joint adjustment and joint test with various systems, the on-site confirmation of astronauts and the launch drill of the whole system. We are fully prepared for the launch mission,” Wu said.

Plan-B rescue rocket

Prepped as the first rocket in Chinese space history with both emergency rescue and launch capabilities, the Long March-2F-Y13 rocket has been standing by at the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center for months. Given the return of the Shenzhou-12 mission, this rocket no longer needed to be on a “plan-B” rescue capability.

Shenzhou-13 crew will link up with station core module and the Tianzhou cargo ship (left) for 6-month tour-of-duty.

Meanwhile, China’s space tracking ship the Yuanwang-3 set sail on Thursday for the Pacific Ocean from the dock of the China Satellite Maritime Tracking and Controlling Department in east China’s Jiangsu Province for its upcoming maritime monitoring missions.

For a video look at Shenzhou-13 launch preparations, go to these videos by China Media Group(CMG)/China Central Television (CCTV)/China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC) at:

Artist’s impression of a close flyby of the metal-rich near-Earth asteroid 1986 DA. Astronomers using the NASA Infrared Telescope Facility have confirmed that the asteroid is made of 85% metal.
Credit: Addy Graham/University of Arizona.

Metal-rich Near-Earth asteroids are being eyed as potential mining targets.

New research, for example, underscores the value of asteroid 1986 DA, loaded with iron, nickel, cobalt, and platinum-group metals (PGM). Those characteristics present on the asteroid would exceed the global reserves of these metals here on Earth.

In fact, if 1986 DA is mined and the metals marketed over 50 years, the annual value of precious metals for this object would be roughly $233 billion.

This new appraisal stems from research published in the Planetary Science Journal, titled “Physical Characterization of Metal-rich Near-Earth Asteroids 6178 (1986 DA) and 2016 ED85,” work led by Juan Sanchez of the Planetary Science Institute in Tucson, Arizona.

NASA Infrared Telescope Facility (IRTF).
Credit: Institute for Astronomy, University of Hawaii

The paper’s findings are based on observations from the NASA Infrared Telescope Facility on the island of Hawaii. The work was funded by the NASA Near-Earth Object Observations Program, which also funds that facility.

Meteorite relationship

“Metal-rich near-Earth asteroids (NEAs) represent a small fraction of the NEA population that is mostly dominated by S- and C-type asteroids,” the paper explains. “Because of this, their identification and study provide us with a unique opportunity to learn more about the formation and evolution of this particular type of bodies, as well as their relationship with meteorites found on Earth.”

Credit: JPL’s Solar System Dynamics (SSD) website

Sanchez and colleagues present near-infrared (NIR) spectroscopic data of NEAs 6178 (1986 DA) and 2016 ED85. Contrary to 1986 DA, there are no radar data available for 2016 ED85. For this reason, in the present study this object is considered as a candidate metal-rich body.

“Our analysis shows that both NEAs have surfaces with 85 percent metal such as iron and nickel and 15 percent silicate material, which is basically rock,” said lead author Sanchez in a University of Arizona statement. “These asteroids are similar to some stony-iron meteorites such as mesosiderites found on Earth.”

Mesosiderites have been found to have similar pyroxene chemistry and produced a good spectral match when metal was added, suggesting similarities between the parent body of the NEAs and the parent body of these meteorites.

Exposed cores

Pointed out in the research paper is that metal-rich asteroids are thought to represent the exposed cores of differentiated asteroids whose crusts and mantles were stripped away following a catastrophic disruption.

Credit: NASA/Arizona State University

A more recent theory suggests that some of these objects, in particular asteroid Psyche, might still preserve a rocky mantle, and that the metal present on the surface could be the result of ferrovolcanic eruptions that covered the rocky material with liquid.

Indeed, asteroid 16 Psyche is thought to be the largest metal-rich body in the solar system, situated in the main asteroid belt between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter rather than near Earth. This space rock is the target of NASA’s Psyche mission.

Psyche is set to launch next year, marking the first time NASA has set out to explore an asteroid projected to be richer in metal than rock or ice.

Credit: Juan Sanchez, et al.

Compositional survey

Some of the largest known metal-rich asteroids are located in the middle and outer part of the asteroid belt.

“We started a compositional survey of the NEA population in 2005, when I was a graduate student, with the goal of identifying and characterizing rare NEAs such as these metal-rich asteroids,” said Vishnu Reddy, a University of Arizona planetary science associate professor and principal investigator of the NASA grant that funded the just-published work. “It is rewarding that we have discovered these ‘mini Psyches’ so close to the Earth,” he said in the University of Arizona statement

To access the paper — “Physical Characterization of Metal-rich Near-Earth Asteroids 6178 (1986 DA) and 2016 ED85,” go to:

Credit: World View

World View, the stratospheric ballooning company, announced today taking passengers to the edge of space, launching from iconic global landmarks, starting with Grand Canyon National Park.

World View’s mission is to bring as many people as possible to the edge of space so that at 100,000 feet, they’ll see a world without borders, a company press statement explains.

Flights would loft eight participants and two World View crew members in a zero-pressure stratospheric balloon and pressurized space capsule to 100,000 feet altitude, nearly 23 miles into the stratosphere, an experience that will last six to 12 hours.

Credit: World View

World View Spaceports

The plan calls for World View participants to rise from spaceports across the world, gently floating in the atmosphere for hours to experience the Earth’s curvature and the darkness of space, taking them four times higher than a commercial aircraft flight.

The voyages, originating out of World View Spaceports at the Seven Wonders of the World, are built around a 5-day fully immersive experience. Participants will be offered excursions from the Spaceports, enabling them to fully experience and immerse themselves in the beauty, fragility, history, and importance of the areas surrounding the Seven Wonders.

Along with the Grand Canyon in the United States, the other launch locales identified are:

  • Great Barrier Reef, Queensland, Australia;
  • Serengeti, Kenya
  • Aurora Borealis, Norway
  • Amazonia, Brazil
  • Giza Pyramids, Egypt
  • Great Wall of China, Mongolia

Credit: World View

Overview Effect

“The company believes that by reaching a critical mass of people experiencing what has been labeled the Overview Effect that humanity will be able to markedly improve the future of our fragile Earth,” the company statement adds.

World View is now accepting deposits for its edge-of-space trips. With an initial deposit of $500, participants can reserve their place in line for commercial flights. The up-and-going price tag is $50,000 per seat with flexible financing options available.

World View has designed the Explorer Space Capsule to offer an elevated luxury experience including a personal in-flight concierge, in-flight dining and bar, internet data connection, access to Earth-view cameras and star-view telescopes, individual viewing screens, fully reclining seats and, thankfully, an on-board lavatory.

Credit: World View

First Commercial Flights

World View’s first commercial flights are expected to begin in early 2024 with non-profit Space For Humanity securing the inaugural commercial flight.

Space For Humanity, a nonprofit group, is organizing the first Sponsored Citizen Astronaut Program, where leaders, from any walk of life, can apply for an opportunity to go to space and experience the Overview Effect: the cognitive shift in awareness that occurs when a human being looks down on the Earth from space.

For more information, go to: and

Mars Perseverance Right Navigation Camera image was acquired on September 29, 2021.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

NASA Mars landers are in pause-mode for some two weeks – operationally impacted by Mars solar conjunction, the period when the Sun comes between Mars and Earth, blocking signals.

Curiosity’s Front Hazard Avoidance camera took this photo on October 1, 2021.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

This means NASA land rovers, Curiosity and Perseverance, will temporarily pause relaying raw images from the Red Planet for about two weeks, with new imagery to be available after October 18.

NASA’s InSight stationary Mars lander acquired this image using its robotic arm-mounted, Instrument Deployment Camera (IDC) on September 27, 2021.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech





Similarly, NASA’s stationary lander, InSight, will momentarily pause sending back raw images for about three weeks, until after October 22.

China’s Zhurong rover.
Credit: Liang Ding, et al.









Safe mode

Lastly, also affected by the solar conjunction is China’s Zhurong rover.

Since September 13, operations using the robot have been suspended for about 50 days. Zhurong has been put into “safe mode,” autonomously carrying out health assessments, self-monitoring and trouble-shooting until communication can be restored.

Zhurong communications are expected to be restored in late October.

Credit: NASA/JPL/UArizona

Caught on camera!

NASA’s Perseverance rover now wheeling about in Jezero Crater has been imaged by NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter using its powerful High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE).

Shane Byrne, HiRISE Deputy Principal Investigator at the University of Arizona explains that after a dramatic landing in February 2021, the Perseverance rover was re-imaged by HiRISE about 2,300 feet (700 meters) from its original landing site.

“The rover doesn’t drive in a straight line though, and has covered much more ground than that,” Byrne explains, pointing out faint wheel tracks on the nearby ground that are visible.

NASA’s Mars missions, clockwise from top left: Perseverance rover and Ingenuity Mars Helicopter, InSight lander, Odyssey orbiter, MAVEN orbiter, Curiosity rover, and Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter.

“HiRISE images like this one allow the rover team to choose the best route to get to their primary target and help put the rover’s observations in context within Jezero Crater,” Byrne adds.

Conjunction junction. Credit: NASA/JPL/Caltech


Meanwhile… the multi-nation armada of Mars missions are standing down from commanding Red Planet probes – orbiters and landers — for the next few weeks while Earth and the Red Planet are on opposite sides of the Sun. This period, called Mars solar conjunction, happens every two years.

As the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) explains, the Sun expels hot, ionized gas from its corona, which extends far into space. “During solar conjunction, when Earth and Mars can’t ‘see’ each other, this gas can interfere with radio signals if engineers try to communicate with spacecraft at Mars. That could corrupt commands and result in unexpected behavior from our deep space explorers.”

China’s Zhurong Rover.
Credit: CNSA/Inside Outer Space screengrab

This year, most missions will stop sending commands between Oct. 2 and Oct. 16. A few extend that commanding moratorium, says JPL, as it’s called, a day or two in either direction, depending on the angular distance between Mars and the Sun in Earth’s sky.

India’s MoM mission to Mars.
Credit: ISRO


Along with the slew of NASA Marscraft, also going virtually incommunicado: China’s Tianwen-1 Orbiter/lander/Zhurong rover, the UAE’s Hope Orbiter, Europe’s Mars Express and Trace Gas Orbiter, as well as India’s Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM).

UAE’s HOPE orbiter.
Credit: Mohammed bin Rashid Space Centre

ESA’s Mars Express.
Credit: ESA/AOES Medialab

Trace Gas Orbiter at Mars.
Credit: ESA/ATG medialab

Credit: Boeing

That enigmatic U.S. military X-37B robotic space drone has now chalked up more than 500 days circling the Earth.

The Orbital Test Vehicle (OTV-6) is also called USSF-7 for the U.S. Space Force, and was launched on May 17, 2020 by an Atlas-V 501 booster.

OTV-6 is the first to use a service module to host experiments. The service module is an attachment to the aft of the vehicle that allows additional experimental payload capability to be carried to orbit.

Credit: Boeing

Primary agenda: classified

While the Boeing-built robotic space plane’s on-orbit primary agenda is classified, some of its onboard experiments were identified pre-launch.

One experiment onboard the space plane is from the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory (NRL), an investigation into transforming solar power into radio frequency microwave energy. The experiment itself is called the Photovoltaic Radio-frequency Antenna Module, PRAM for short.

X-37B Air Force space plane.
Credit: Boeing/Inside Outer Space Screengrab

Along with toting NRL’s PRAM into Earth orbit, the X-37B also deployed the FalconSat-8, a small satellite developed by the U.S. Air Force Academy and sponsored by the Air Force Research Laboratory to conduct several experiments on orbit.

In addition, two NASA experiments are also onboard the space plane to study the effects of the space environment on a materials sample plate and seeds used to grow food.

Technicians tend Air Force X-37B space plane after tarmac touchdown.
Credit: U.S. Air Force

Previous flights

OTV-1: launched on April 22, 2010 and landed on December 3, 2010, spending over 224 days on orbit.

OTV-2: launched on March 5, 2011 and landed on June 16, 2012, spending over 468 days on orbit.

OTV-3: launched on December 11, 2012 and landed on October 17, 2014, spending over 674 days on-orbit.

OTV-4: launched on May 20, 2015 and landed on May 7, 2015, spending nearly 718 days on-orbit.

OTV-5: launched on September 7, 2017 and landed on October 27, 2019, spending nearly 780 days on-orbit.

OTV-1, OTV-2, and OTV-3 missions landed at Vandenberg Air Force Base, California, while the OTV-4 and OTV-5 missions landed at Kennedy Space Center, Florida.

There is no word on when and where OTV-6 will return to Earth.

X-37B hangar at Kennedy Space Center.
Credit: Michael Martin/SAF

According to a Boeing fact sheet, “the X-37B is one of the world’s newest and most advanced re-entry spacecraft, designed to operate in low-earth orbit, 150 to 500 miles above the Earth. The vehicle is the first since the Space Shuttle with the ability to return experiments to Earth for further inspection and analysis. This United States Air Force unmanned space vehicle explores reusable vehicle technologies that support long-term space objectives.”

Delta 9

The X-37B program is flown under the wing of a U.S. Space Force unit called Delta 9, established and activated July 24, 2020.

“Delta 9 Detachment 1 oversees operations of the X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle, an experimental program designed to demonstrate technologies for a reliable, reusable, unmanned space test platform for the U.S. Space Force,” according to a fact sheet issued by Schriever Air Force Base in Colorado.

“The mission of Delta 9 is to prepare, present, and project assigned and attached forces for the purpose of conducting protect and defend operations and providing national decision authorities with response options to deter and, when necessary, defeat orbital threats,” the fact sheet explains. “Additionally, Delta 9 supports Space Domain Awareness by conducting space-based battlespace characterization operations and also conducts on-orbit experimentation and technology demonstrations for the U.S. Space Force.”

Credit: CCTV/Inside Outer Space screengrab

Making its public debut is China’s next-generation crewed spacecraft.

The once flown capsule is on display at the Airshow China 2021 in Guangdong Province’s Zhuhai City.

This craft is larger than the now-in-use Shenzhou spacecraft. China space officials say the new vehicle extends the qualities of reliability and safety, and will be reusable.

Huang Kewu, deputy head of the manned lunar exploration general department at the Fifth Research Institute of the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC).
Credit: CCTV/Inside Outer Space screengrab


Moon exploration capsule

In a China Central Television (CCTV) interview, Huang Kewu, deputy head of the manned lunar exploration general department at the Fifth Research Institute of the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC) said:

Credit: CCTV/Inside Outer Space screengrab


“The new generation of manned spacecraft is designed to meet the needs of our manned lunar exploration and space station operations in the future. The new generation of manned space transportation vehicle, which has been tested, could carry six to seven astronauts, while our Shenzhou spacecraft could only take three astronauts.”

With a launch mass of 21.6 tons, the next-generation piloted spacecraft is China’s largest return and reentry spacecraft launched with the largest amount of propellant. Some of the new technologies were successfully tested in its first flight in May of last year.

China’s next-generation piloted spaceship undergoes landing test using airbags.
Credit: CCTV/Inside Outer Space screengrab

Test flight

The prototype next-generation spacecraft was hurled into orbit by a Long March-5B launch vehicle from the Wenchang Space Launch Center, Wenchang, Hainan Province, China, on May 5, 2020. The craft landed safely on May 8 at the Dongfeng landing site and is designed for transportation of both astronauts and cargo.

The right side of the vehicle carried nearly 1,000 pieces of supplies to verify the spaceship’s cargo capacity. The left side of the craft was configured as a living area for astronauts, with a folding table and a toilet.

The experimental spaceship flew in orbit for two days and 19 hours, during which it carried out a series of space science and technology experiments, reported the China Manned Space Agency (CMSA).

Post-flight condition of China’s next-generation spaceship.
Credit: CCTV/Inside Outer Space screengrab

“We have achieved significant breakthroughs in thermal protection and precision control for the return and reentry, as well as in engine design and undamaged landing,” Huang told CCTV.

“The achievements in manned space transportation technologies have enabled us to take a leap from lagging behind the pacemakers to running beside them, and this lays a sound technological foundation for our future manned lunar spacecraft,” said Huang.

Go to this CCTV video at:

Go to these Inside Outer Space stories at:

China’s New-gen Spaceship – First Inside Look (Updated)

China’s New-generation Spaceship Readied for Return Home

China’s New Spaceship: Space Station and Human Moon Exploration Plans

A new study appraises the wide swath of space technology trends and strategic financial insights – including space health, off-planet construction to private spaceflight, space solar power and space settlement.

The 240-page case study is the work of SpaceTech Analytics (STA), a strategic analytics agency focused on markets in the space exploration, spaceflight, space medicine, and satellite tech industries.

The study is targeted for investors, entrepreneurs, and stakeholders with the goal to raise the education level of those who are not already space technology experts.

Credit: STA

Key takeaways

In an STA press statement, some of the study takeaways include the following:

— Small satellites are actively expanding in the SpaceTech market. Small satellites are very light and may mass as little as 30 kg. Unfortunately, it is not generally affordable and reasonable to launch one small satellite. However, launching dozens or hundreds of satellites reduces costs significantly, which makes launches more accessible. On January 24th 2021, SpaceX set a record and launched 143 satellites on a single rocket for $57M on a Falcon 9.

Credit: Astrobotic

— Today, commercial space transportation is the primary means of delivery to Earth orbit. Soon, this will include commercial in-space transportation systems and their support infrastructure. There are commercial in-space transportation companies now. Today, one can book payload delivery to the Moon on expendable commercial lunar landers with Astrobotic for $1.2M per kilogram.

— Space is becoming relatively more accessible and affordable, allowing smaller countries to launch satellites with less effort and fewer resources. As a result, many countries in Africa, Latin America, and Asia have begun developing space technologies. For example, Kenya and Bahrain have joined the list of countries operating satellites.

Lunar resources

The study also provides insights into tapping the Moon’s resources and underscores that space medicine is a new frontier sector. Takeaways include:

Using local resources on the Moon can help make future crewed missions more sustainable and affordable.
Credit: RegoLight, visualization: Liquifer Systems Group, 2018

— Potential lunar resources may encompass materials that can be processed such as volatiles and minerals and geologic structures such as lava tubes that together might enable lunar habitation. The industrial development of asteroids involves extracting raw materials on asteroids and space bodies in the asteroid belt and especially in near-Earth space (in terms of velocity to get to them).

— Space Medicine is a new frontier sector along with longevity. Long-duration spaceflight needs to be investigated more thoroughly. It is known that weightlessness influences muscle loss, bone loss, renal dysfunction, cardiovascular system, immune system, as well different neurological disorders and behavioral health. This will likely change in the coming era of space tourism.

To access this detailed, informative study, go to:



China’s lander and Yutu-2 rover have worked for 1,000 Earth days on the lunar farside, according to the Lunar Exploration and Space Program Center of the China National Space Administration (CNSA).

Chang’e-4 lander and Yutu-2 rover. Images of each other taken by the respective machinery.

The lander, rover, and payloads are reportedly in good condition.

As of Wednesday, Yutu-2 has traveled 2,754 feet (840 meters) and obtained 3,632.01 gigabytes (GB) of data.


The Chang’e-4 probe, launched on December 8, 2018, making the first-ever soft landing within the Von Kármán Crater in the South Pole-Aitken Basin on the Moon’s farside on January 3, 2019.

Von Kármán crater as viewed by NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter.
Credit: NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University